Planning Books That Shaped America

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Last week, the Library Of Congress unveiled a list of 88 “Books that Shaped America”.

There are many books that you would expect to be on such a list, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

There are two books on the list that are always mentioned in urban planning circles: Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives (1890) and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). Riis’ book about New York City tenement living led to much housing law reform, while Carson’s book is cited for helping to start the contemporary environmental movement.

One other book is on the list, Christopher Colles’ A Survey Of The Roads Of The United States Of America (1789), is not mentioned frequently among planners, but it had a tremendous impact on American planning. The LOC’s summary:

Irish-born engineer and surveyor Christopher Colles produced what is considered the first road map or guidebook of the United States. It uses a format familiar to modern travelers with each plate consisting of two to three strip maps arranged side by side, covering approximately 12 miles. Colles began this work in 1789 but ended the project in 1792 because few people purchased subscriptions. But he compiled an atlas covering approximately 1,000 miles from Albany, N.Y., to Williamsburg, Va.

Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives can be downloaded for free at Google Books.

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